Accessibility links

Western Press Review -- Pakistan's Coup, Test Ban Treaty's Failure

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 18 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western Press commentary today and over the weekend continues to focus heavily on the fallout from the military coup d'etat in Pakistan and on the U.S. Senate's rejection late last week of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. There is also some comment on the weekend summit meeting of the European Union in Finland.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The international community cannot condone the overthrow of a democratic government

Britain's Financial Times writes in an editorial today that the leaders of the Pakistan coup have, in the paper's words, "made some important concessions to international concerns about the need for a speedy restoration of the constitution and a harmonious relation with India. These concessions," the paper says, "show Pakistan's new rulers have taken seriously the warnings from around the world about what will follow if they persist in flouting the principles of democracy."

The FT goes on: "Still, the basic principle remains: the international community cannot condone the overthrow of a democratic government by a non-elected army. [Coup leader General Pervez] Musharraf's failure to set a firm time for the return of democracy remains a serious impediment to the restoration of 'business as usual' in Pakistan's international relations."

The paper adds: "Until [Musharraf] has appointed a new cabinet and set out his plans in greater detail, it is impossible to know what all [his] promises mean. ...The danger is that the lack of preparedness that showed through [in yesterday's speech by Musharraf] will lead to a sense of drift in which the military eventually has no option but to tighten rather than relax its grip."

NEWSDAY: Pakistan is in danger of joining the ranks of failed countries

Two U.S. commentators see the Pakistan situation as posing considerable dangers. In the U.S. daily Newsday, analyst Richard Haass notes that military coups are "hardly news" in Pakistan. "This one," he notes, "is the fourth one in the country's half-century of existence. ...But," he adds, the coup is "troubling all the same, and for reasons that go beyond the obvious desire of the U.S. and other democratic countries not to see elected officials removed illegally by soldiers who should remain in their barracks."

That's so, he says, because "this week's coup is but the latest sign that Pakistan is in deep trouble. It is in danger of joining the ranks of failed countries. The fault lines in Pakistan are numerous and deep." Haass continues: "In addition to a host of ethnic and geographic divisions, there are those between the military and civilians, and more between those favoring a secular society and those who want to see Pakistan dominated by Islam. The society is further buffeted by the impact of developments in neighboring Afghanistan, where the radical Taliban have gained power and are providing assistance to like-minded Pakistanis."

"As a result," Haass says, "the nightmare scenario that we must now consider is less the suspension of democracy than the breakdown of order. A Pakistan plagued by weak authority is far more likely to stumble into a war with nuclear-armed India than is a stable, democratic and prosperous country that knows full well that a war would be devastating." He adds: "Just as dangerous would be a nation that could not sustain legitimate governments able to build public support for necessary economic and social reforms. Such a Pakistan would likely become a breeding ground for international drug traffickers and terrorists on the lines of Afghanistan or Sudan."

NEW YORK TIMES: Having generals rule is no solution

Commentator Steven Weisman in the New York Times says that "it is always tempting to see Pakistan as an artificial country carved painfully out of the remnants of the British empire, a place of such virulent sectarian hatreds and corrupt leadership that only the military can hope to govern it successfully. ...But," he goes on, "if a country is unruly, having generals rule is no solution. Pakistan's last military regime, which lasted from 1977 to 1988, was a useful ally, particularly in opposing the Russians in neighboring Afghanistan. But by crushing dissent, tolerating corruption and having no accountability for 11 years, the military lost credibility among Pakistanis and was eventually overwhelmed by the nation's problems."

Weisman believes that one major problem, in his words, "is that the original building blocks of Pakistani society -- the clergy, the military and the wealthy feudal lords who owned most of the land -- have fractured. Today," he says, "the military is split into secular and Islamic camps. The landlords' power has flowed to a newly wealthy business class...the clergy is split into factions, some of which are allied with Saudi Arabia, Iran, the terrorist Osama bin Laden, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and others. Breakaway ethnic movements flourish. Corruption, poverty, guns, and drugs have turned these elements into an explosive mix."

The political tradition in Pakistan, Weisman sums up, is more "stunted" than that that in India because in Pakistan the army has run things for nearly half the country's history. He concludes: "The question remains: If Pakistanis are not capable of governing themselves, why would Pakistanis wearing uniforms be any different?"

WASHINGTON POST: The vote is principally the product of two major mistakes committed by Clinton and his senior advisers

In a commentary today for the Washington Post, analyst Richard Burt calls the Senate vote on the test-ban treaty "a debacle for American foreign policy." Burt was the U.S. chief negotiator for the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START II) during the administration of George Bush. He says: "This is the first time in modern history that the U.S. has failed to ratify a major arms control agreement, a development that has unsettled allies in Europe and Asia, while making Washington an easy target of criticism for Moscow and Beijing."

For Burt, the blames lies not so much with the Republican-led Senate as with the administration of President Bill Clinton. He writes: "The vote is principally the product of two major mistakes committed by Clinton and his senior advisers. The first is the administration's failure to methodically build a bipartisan consensus for the complicated and controversial treaty. ...The second key mistake was conceptual: The administration failed to provide a compelling rationale for a test ban in the changed circumstances of the post-Cold War era."

Burt concludes: "With the collapse of the Soviet Union, nuclear competition between Washington and Moscow has ceased to be a central concern. At the same time, the spread of nuclear arms to new nations has become an increasingly worrisome trend. ...In the increasingly fragmented and decentralized world of the 21st century, nations such as Iraq refuse to follow Washington's lead. Pakistan and India, which have acquired nuclear arsenals despite concerted opposition by the U.S. and others, are cases in point."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Congress no longer appears to be an arena where thoughtful dialogue on foreign policy can take place

The Los Angeles Times asked in an editorial yesterday: "Is the crushing of the test ban treaty a further deliberate step back from U.S. global responsibilities? Certainly," the paper says, "it fits a regressive pattern that includes the failure to pay UN dues, the House [of Representatives'] refusal to support the air war in the Kosovo campaign and almost mindless cuts in what has been anything but a generous foreign aid budget."

The paper then asks another question: "How much of [this new U.S. isolationism] is due to bald partisanship? All lame-duck presidents have problems with Congress," it notes, "and Clinton, given his personal history, is lamer than most. But what's going on is clearly more than just personal," the paper believes.

The editorial adds: "Republican complaints that the United States is over-committed internationally reflect some reasonable concerns ... -- whether U.S. troops have been sent to too many places, whether we are shouldering burdens others could properly handle -- that merit sober debate." But the paper concludes: "Congress no longer appears to be an arena where thoughtful dialogue on foreign policy can take place. ...A presidential campaign beckons, offering a forum where reasoned discussion of contentious issues should be demanded."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Transformation is on the way for the EU

This weekend's summit meeting in Tampere, Finland, is assessed in an analysis in today's Financial Times. Peter Norman says that "transformation is on the way for the EU." He writes that "the decision take by EU leaders at the weekend to create an area of 'freedom, justice and security' is just one of several projects set to transform the 15-nation Union over the coming decade."

Norman adds: "Reform of the EU's institutions is on the Brussels agenda again today when three 'wise men' appointed by Romano Prodi, the EU Executive Commission's president, deliver a report that is expected to argue for a comprehensive shake-up of the EU's decision-making methods so that the Union can function after its other great project: enlargement to 25 or 30 countries."

Norman adds: "The summit yielded good news on enlargement for Mr. Prodi. ...The 15 leaders practically reached consensus on doubling the number of countries negotiating with the EU for membership, as proposed by the Commission last week. According to Gerhard Schroeder, the German chancellor, they also agreed that the EU should be ready for new members from 2003." Finally, says the analyst, "the summit also gave a push to EU plans to develop a European security and defense policy, declaring that it expected Javier Solana, who takes over today as high representative for the EU's common foreign and security policy, 'to make a key contribution to this objective.'"

INFORMATION: EU leaders participating in the meeting missed an opportunity

In EU member-state Denmark, the daily Information says in an editorial today: "If the Tampere summit's chief aim was to set the framework for a common asylum and immigration policy, then the 15 EU leaders participating in the meeting missed the opportunity. But what they did agree upon may be seen as an important first step -- concrete deadlines for the EU Commission on the establishment of such policy."

The paper goes on: "The EU leaders ...also attempted to convince their voters that they are firmly set to halt illegal immigration. Significantly, the EU decided in Tampere to cooperate with these countries where most of the [unwelcome] refugees come from. But the plan to support these countries economically and thus make it attractive for their citizens to remain at home is far from perfect --not least because three of the five countries in question do not have a government with which the EU can do business: Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan."

Information adds: "The EU countries also agreed in Tampere to fight xenophobia and racism, and to allow long-term legal residents [from other EU states] the same rights as citizens. Regardless of whether the real result of Tampere will be the reinforcement of controls on EU's external borders, the summit did acknowledge the need for a balance between the legitimate right to asylum and the legitimate concern of the ordinary citizens about the presence of foreigners in their countries."

AFTENPOSTEN: We are witnessing the birth of a new EU

In Norway, a member of NATO -- but not of the EU -- the newspaper Aftenposten writes: "The Tampere summit sent a signal that the main thrust of the EU's future work -- after the successful implementation of economic union -- will be the setting up of closer political ties among member-states. EU leaders showed a determination to expand their internal political and legal cooperation."

The paper concludes: "While the main lines [of closer cooperation] are clear, the speed of their practical implementation is not so clear. The same is true for the coming enlargement of the EU. [Still,] we are witnessing the birth of a new EU, which will undertake far more than before, and will do so it with many more members."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)